SCOTTSDALE — The Rockies had one of the best infields in baseball in 2017. If they want to repeat that in 2018, a few questions need to be answered, particularly at shortstop and first base.
Trevor Story is looking to have a bounce back year in 2018 after he struggled offensively in 2017. Ryan McMahon hopes to solidify his spot as the Opening Day first baseman, but he has some heavy competition from Ian Desmond.
So far, the outlook is good for both guys. We wrote a few weeks ago that Story needs to find a way to combine both his great bat in 2016 with his good defense in 2017 and he should be poised to have a stellar 2018. Shortstop is a notoriously difficult position defensively, and improving there could come at the expense of other parts of a player’s game.
Many shortstops find themselves batting lower in the order because that’s not why they have a job, but have also found themselves in the daily lineup due to their defensive abilities (see: Nick Ahmed). Finding guys who can play well on both side of the ball is a like finding a needle in a haystack (see: Francisco Lindor). Story himself acknowledged that as well, saying, “the goal is to combine the two [offense and defense]. I learned a lot about myself last year offensively and defensively. When you play shortstop, you have to separate the two and you always have to be there defensively. I take pride in that.”
This is not to say that Story had a completely disastrous offensive year in 2017—he did work a lot of things out towards the end of the year to put himself back in the realm of the needles. When asked about offense, he said, “I made some strides at the end of the year last year offensively and I’m feeling good right now so hopefully that can overlay into the season.” In September alone last year, he hit .269/.298/.565 with six home runs. During the previous five months combined, he hit .233/.316/.436 with 18 of his total 24 home runs.
So far so good for Story, as he’s currently tearing it up with a line of .457/.525/.886 with 13 strikeouts in 35 at bats. His defense is looking good so far this spring also, so it might be safe to say that he is poised to have a rebound third year shortstop campaign both offensively and defensively.
Another young player who has been making strides is third baseman turned first baseman Ryan McMahon. He has been working this spring to transition from his natural position of third base over to the supposedly open spot at first. When asked about what he’s doing on and how he’s been taking the transition, he said he’s been working on “tightening up my defense, making sure I have every box checked. I feel comfortable at first base like I do at third.”
So far, he has been checking every box defensively, both as a first baseman and as a third baseman. In 22 spring training games thus far, he is slashing .333/.367/.509 with ten strikeouts in 57 at bats. Even Bud Black has noticed McMahon’s improvements at first, saying that “he looks much more comfortable and he feels as though he’s belonging in this situation (big league camp).”
Currently, McMahon’s competition is slashing just .135/.135/.324 with 18 strikeouts in 13 games as a first baseman, even after hitting two home runs in a single inning against the Angels in Tempe on Friday. While McMahon is having a great spring and Desmond is most definitely not, it still doesn’t look like a sure thing that McMahon will break camp with the Rockies.
These two young infielders appear ready for tremendous seasons in 2018, either by having a breakout season or simply by breaking onto the Opening Day roster. They have been making adjustments and making their cases to be long term solutions at their respective positions. The Rockies still have veteran stars Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu to hold down the fort, but if either Story or McMahon (or both) are able to find their best selves in 2018, the Rockies might solidify themselves as one of the best infields in baseball once again.